Vermalung (grau) (In-painting (grey)) is one of a large-scale series of 'in-painting' pictures that Richter made in 1972. 'Vermalung' or 'in-painting' was a technique Richter derived in the wake of his Colour Chart paintings and which led to the creation of his 'Grey pictures'. In these works, Richter abandoned, perhaps for the first time, all content, subject-mattter, form and colour in the creation of autonomous almost self-generating works of art.
The procedure involved in this new technique originated in a series of paintings of landscapes and other natural phenomena in which the branches of trees and foliage etc. appeared and were painted in such a way that the thick impasto used to delineate them began to merge together and to obscure the image beneath. Marking the step away from the use of a photographic source image for his painting that had informed even his Colour Charts, 'in-painting' signified a painterly response by the artist to possibilities proposed and perhaps even demanded by his own method and practice of painting. 'In-painting' marked Richter's painterly response to his own painting at a time when the prevailing view of almost everyone else around him was that painting as a meaningful art form had exhausted its own potential and had nothing relevant left to say.
Following the non-systematic or chance-based logic of the displacement of colours on his colour charts, Richter would cover the canvases of these 'in-paintings' by merging the three primary colour tones, or, as in this work, the two tones of black and white, by using a sequence of looping interwoven and meandering brushstrokes to blend a single monochrome colour. This looping technique had its origins in Richter's childhood practice of drawing loose circles with his finger in the grease left on his empty plate after meals, mindlessly creating what he recalled was a 'fascinating and endless spatial structure'. Of his 1972 Vermalung paintings Richter wrote that he 'applied the paint in evenly spaced patches, or blobs, on the canvas. Not following any system at all, there were black and white blobs of paint, which I joined up with a brush until there was no bare canvas left uncovered and all the colour patches were joined up and merged into grey. I just stopped when this was done.' (G. Richter in conversation with S. Rainbird in G. Richter, exh. cat., London 1991, p. 127).
Using this process, Richter arrived at a rich brown colour in the primary colour works and at a unique grey tone in those that began with black and white. The colour of this grey, like the endlessly meandering lines with which Richter has fluidly and intuitively formed the work, is both singular and of infinite variety as the colours and lines blend and re-blend at a variety of different points, all combining to form a deception - that of an apparently dull, monotone grey canvas.
'The advantage of my Grey Pictures is that they seem to unmask all other statements, whether object bound or abstract, as surrogates, and arbitrary ones at that. In natural terms, however, they are still the same sentiments.' (G. Richter, The Daily Practice of Painting, London 1995, p. 123.)